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Live Review

Tedeschi Trucks Band At Red Rocks

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Tedeschi Trucks Band
Red Rocks
Denver, CO
July 29-30, 2022

The international COVID lockdown was a burden on everybody. Musicians were especially hard hit with no ability to play live and sing for their supper. Many hunkered down and, after some time processing the initial shock of it all, got to work priming the creativity pump.

In the case of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, they brooded. No concerts, not even the ability to play together. But, according to TTB vocalist Mike Mattison, the brooding turned toward contemplation of the subject of their last album, the fictional character Layla, one half of a love-struck young couple kept apart by circumstances far beyond their control. The reference is from a 12th Century Sufi poem entitled Layla and Majnun by Nizami. Eric Clapton's 1970 album Layla and Assorted Love Songs (1970, Polydor) (technically, Derek and the Dominos) focused on the man's obsession with his love object. But TTB decided to take a deeper look into the story. What was really going on? For instance, how did Layla feel about this whole obsession thing?

A concept for an album began to emerge. But rather than stage a Broadway adaptation of Layla and Majnun, the band took a broader approach and ultimately used the ancient poem (and other, similar stories throughout the ages, such as Romeo and Juliet) as a jumping off point and, as Mattison describes in liner notes, examined questions such as whether humans are just in love with the dream of love. In Layla and Majnun, the ill-fated lovers finally meet after epic struggles to get together. They stare at each other for hours, then turn and walk away. So, is wanting the thing more powerful than the satisfaction of having it? Brood over that.

The band went on a song writing spree. Seven members of the twelve member band are credited with writing songs on the first two albums, either individually, but usually collaboratively with two or three or four names listed on the writing credits. When the band was finally able to get together to start recording, they had much more time than usual to work on the songs because of the touring prohibition.

The project has yielded not one, but four new Tedeschi Trucks Band albums comprising 24 new songs. The band has been releasing one per month over the summer. The current score is three down, one to go. The series is called I Am the Moon. The first installment, released in May, is entitled I. Crescent (2022, Fantasy). Next is II. Ascension (2022, Fantasy). Part three, released at the end of July is III. The Fall (2022, Fantasy). The final installment will be released in late August and will be called IV. Farewell (2022, Fantasy). The COVID-induced extended touring break resulted in some of the finest TTB music to date on the currently available albums.

Last weekend, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks brought their 12-piece band for their annual late July two-night stand at Red Rocks Amphitheater for the 2022 version of the Wheels of Soul Tour. And, as is also traditional for TTB, the band was the third of a three-act bill. Gabe Dixon Band opened the show with Los Lobos sandwiched in the middle. Also as usual, each two and a half hour TTB set was mostly different from the other night with the repetition of only two songs.

As with all living organisms, TTB continues to evolve in terms of their sound, songs, and personnel; the latter being a major influence in the changes to the first two. The single biggest factor in TTB's current evolutional stage is probably the emergence of keyboard player and vocalist Gabe Dixon. Dixon's band has been opening the TTB shows on the current tour. Indeed, Dixon has had his own band for a couple of decades, has been a prolific songwriter and has toured with acts like Paul McCartney, Alison Krauss and Supertramp. Dixon joined TTB following the 2019 death of the beloved Kofi Burbridge, the original TTB keyboard man.

Dixon wrote or co-wrote over half of songs on the new albums including the title track of the whole project, "I Am the Moon." He was also the lead singer or co-lead singer along with Tedeschi on many of the new songs. Based on his opening sets Friday and Saturday nights, he seems to be heavily influenced by the New Orleans funky gumbo. That influence comes through on many of tracks on the new TTB albums. On several, it is easy to picture Dr. John in Dixon's place. Dixon also regularly joins the other three backing vocalists supporting Tedeschi, giving the band five competent singers.

Another evolutionary point is the spreading around of the vocal spotlight. At the band's inception, around 2011, it only had two backing vocalists, later adding a third, raising the band's roster from 11 to 12 members. In the past, the backing singers occasionally got solo turns, but that is now happening more frequently, both on the new albums and during the band's Red Rocks shows.

Friday night's set started with all new material. In fact, the set was over an hour old before the band got to anything else. But that was OK because of the quality of the new material. TTB played the entire Moon I, Crescent album in order, except for the insertion of two tracks from Moon III, The Fall as the second and third tunes of the set.

The lead song of the set, "Hear My Dear," is also the opening track on the first of the four albums and sets the tone, both musically and lyrically, for what's to come. The lyrics speak of searching, holding onto memories, regret, hopes for the future, and winds up with the chorus: "Hear my dear, it's your melody/Sorry it took so long/I was lost in the wilderness/And that's when I heard our song."

The second song of the set, "Gravity," was written and sung by Dixon and it ladled the funk all over the rocks. This one has Little Feat stamped all over it and, ironically, that band was playing elsewhere in Denver the same night. Another song from Moon III, The Fall followed, the much more poignant "Take Me As I Am" which was another example of spotlight sharing where Tedeschi traded vocals with Mark Rivers. Next up was the Mattison penned "Fall In" which he sang. "I Am the Moon" appeared next. That was another one written by Dixon and he shared lead vocals with Tedeschi. This was a highlight of the early part of the set with its descending chord progression similar to "Stairway to Heaven" or "25 or 6, 2, 4" from Chicago. There's certainly nothing wrong with recycling chord progressions. Jazz players have been doing that with "I've Got Rhythm" and other chestnuts for decades. As applied here, that progression was the perfect vehicle for laid-back head bobbing during the lengthy outro. "Circles 'Round the Sun," which followed, set a similar jammish mood.

The final track on Moon I, Crescent is "Pasaquan." On the album, the tune runs over 12 minutes. Compared to the live rendition, that's the short version. On the album, it's a quintet jam with Trucks, Dixon, Brandon Boone on bass and Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady on drums. In concert Friday night, those five were joined by Alfredo Oritz, the Los Lobos drummer on congas. This was one of the two repeats over the two nights and on Saturday night, dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas also joined the band on this song. This one features extended drums; on the album, a drum duo and in concert a drum trio with the inclusion of Ortiz. Los Lobos has been touring with TTB for a couple of months, so the three drummers have played this one together a few dozen times by now. And it showed with telepathic communication among the three, call and response, and ever shifting and morphing patterns and textures.

The word "Pasaquan" sounds like it could be something from a 12th Century Sufi poem, but it turns out to be of much more recent derivation, i.e. the 20th Century. Pasaquan, the place, is a 7-acre utopian art installation in northwestern Georgia conceived and built by Eddie Owens Martin a/k/a St. OEM (1908-1986). Martin painted buildings, fences, and totems in bright geometric patterns. His artwork is a fusion of pre-Columbian Mexico, African and Native American cultural and religious symbols mixed in with St. EOM's vision. Martin envisioned a world of equality among all people, a concept meshing nicely with Tedeschi and Trucks' view of the world. In fact, the band filmed part of the video that goes with the Moon series at Pasaquan.

"Pasaquan" the word, was coined by St. EOM and was his attempt to linguistically merge cultures. "Pasa" is from Meso-American culture, and he lifted "quan" from East Asia. Finally, TTB included a reading from St. EOM at the end of "Circles 'Round the Sun" on Moon I. Crescent. In the reading, he seems to discuss his view of physics and "the forces of nature." They also included the prerecorded reading in their live show.

Now, back to the concert: Following "Pasaquan," TTB brought on the Los Lobos guitarists David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas and that band's sax man Steve Berlin to help out with War's "The World is a Ghetto." As good as the new material is, this tune took the evening up another notch with a familiar killer tune given an enthusiastic treatment by a band that featured four guitarists and a four piece horn section.

From there, the band laid into more covers with some originals sprinkled in and a heavy emphasis on the blues. The Los Lobos guitarists stuck around for "Key to the Highway," a song credited to Charles Segar which also appeared on the original Layla album and, of course TTB's Layla Revisited (2021, Fantasy) (recorded pre-pandemic in 2019). "Just Won't Burn" is a bluesy Tedeschi original that was the title track of her first major label release (1998, Tone Cool). "Outside Woman Blues" kept the blues going. Dr. John's "Walk on Gilded Splinters" was only a slight reprieve from straight ahead blues. TTB has performed this classic from Dr. John's first album for several years and they capture the dark and somewhat creepy feel from that album. But it was the next tune that tore the roof off the outdoor amphitheater. TTB has played Bobby Blue Bland's "I Pity the Fool" many times, and this time Tedeschi dove deep into the jilted lover well and pulled out an extended anguished wail throughout the song and at one point punctuated her cry with a primal scream. Chilling.

That was a hard one to follow, but the band pulled it off with a hopped-up version of "Bound for Glory" from their first album Revelator (2011, Sony Masterworks). This one has benefitted from a decade's worth of refinement and, particularly in this case, the trading of vocal licks between Tedeschi and backing vocalist Alicia Chakour. For the encore, they chose the anthemic "Let's Go Get Stoned" which, of course, turned into a sing-along.

Saturday night's TTB set seemed to start a little early as Trucks and several other TTB members joined Los Lobos for the last tune of their set which turned out to be an Allman Brothers song "Don't Keep Me Wondering." The official TTB set started with three band originals from the prior decade before the band moved into "Hear My Dear," the only other repeat besides "Pasaquan." That was followed by two from Moon III. The Fall. The hope-for-better-times "Yes We Will" was followed by the tender "Emmaline," another song written and sung by backing singer Mike Mattison. "Keep On Growing," the only song of the evening from Layla appeared next. Jerry Douglas on dobro made his first appearance on the next song, "All the Love," from Moon II. Ascension..

The Allman Brothers Band reappeared with "Done Somebody Wrong," a tune actually written by Elmore James, but covered by the Brothers to great effect on Live at Fillmore East (1971, Capricorn). Trucks and Douglas traded licks with Douglas' dobro sounding eerily similar to Trucks' slide guitar. The extended "Pasaquan" followed with "So Long Savior" next up. That's another one from Moon II. Ascension and sounds like an old-timey country blues tune. "Midnight in Harlem" is a beautiful song from Revelator and is always a joy to hear. The blues came back with another Bobby Blue Bland song, "That Did It," another story of a love affair gone bad. The medley of{John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" with the Dead's "Sugaree" is another one that's always nice to hear, but by this time in the evening, it dropped the energy level perhaps a bit too much. But the band revved it up again with another medley which started with the original "I Want More" melded with yet more Allman Brothers, "Les Brers in A Minor" from Eat a Peach (1973, Capricorn). The encore Saturday night was a song called "Space Captain" which is not about Captain Kirk, but rather has lyrics about how we must learn to live together, basically the message St. EOM was trying to convey at Pasaquan.

Another result of the lengthy COVID touring break was increased technical proficiency and instrumental expansion. Maybe Tedeschi played drums before COVID, but she's credited with holding down the drum chair on "So Long Savior" on Moon II, Ascension. Derek Trucks shows up on tabla on a track on the new discs. Drummer Isaac Eady came around front Saturday night and played guitar on one tune. The other drummer, Tyler Greenwell played guitar on several songs on the new albums. Another noticeable upgrade was Tedeschi's guitar playing. She's played guitar ever since she hit the scene in the late 90s and, when Trucks was in the Allman Brothers, she often sat in for a few tunes during their concerts and displayed Liz Chaney level guts by throwing down guitar solos while she stood between Trucks and Warren Haynes, two of the top blues/rock guitarists on the planet. But the apparent wood-shedding of the past couple of years has raised her game noticeably. She took regular solos and poured out her emotions through both Gibson and Fender while taking a momentary break from doing so with her vocals.

Good things from COVID? Well, maybe these are some faint silver linings, one pandemic per century is plenty.

July 29 Set List

Hear My Dear, Gravity, Take Me as I Am, Fall In, I Am the Moon, Circles Round the Sun, Pasaquan, World is a Ghetto, Key to the Highway, Part of Me, Just Won't Burn, Outside Woman Blues, Walk on Gilded Splinters, I Pity the Fool, Bound for Glory, Encore: Let's Go Get Stoned

July 30 Set List

Anyhow, Do I Look Worried?, Made up Mind, Hear My Dear, Yes We Will, Emmaline, Keep On Growing, All the Love, with Jerry Douglas, Done Somebody Wrong, with Jerry Douglas, Pasaquan, with Jerry Douglas, So Long Savior, with Jerry Douglas, Midnight in Harlem, That Did It, Angel from Montgomery/Sugaree, with Jerry Douglas, I Want More/Les Brers in A Minor, Encore: Space Captain (Learning to Live Together)

The Band

Susan Tedeschi, vocals, guitar, Derek Trucks, guitar, Gabe Dixon, keyboards, vocals, Brandon Boone, bass, Tyler Greenwell, drums, percussion, Isaac Eady, drums, percussion, guitar, Mike Mattison, vocals, guitar, percussion, Mark Rivers, vocals, percussion, Alicia Chakour, vocals, percussion, Kebbie Williams, saxophone, Ephraim Owens, trumpet, Elizabeth Lea, trombone.

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